Purchase Story

The Estate of Al Capone

Witherell’s, Sacramento, California

Photos courtesy Witherell’s

“Buyers drop more than $3.1M during auction of Al Capone’s heirlooms” was a headline in the New York Post on October 12. But even before the blockbuster prices, the Witherell’s auction on October 8, “A Century of Notoriety: The Estate of Al Capone,” was a remarkable event. First, the auction of Capone’s stemware, porcelain figurines, furniture, guns, etc. was the media’s darling, with stories appearing in the New York Times and everyplace else (“Al Capone’s granddaughters to auction off his personal belongings in Sacramento,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 23). Then an invitation arrived for the invitation-only auction, the envelope addressed by a calligrapher. The auction was held at The Sutter Club, an elegant 1930 Spanish-style building with wrought-iron chandeliers, carved wood ceilings, and private pay-phone booths with carved wooden doors. Had he been writing about Sacramento instead of Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, John O’Hara would have written about The Sutter Club.

A convivial, dressed-up crowd was on hand, enjoying the more than generous “heavy hors d’oeuvres,” open bar, and each other’s outfits. The Capone family contingent was up front and well represented, and receiving affectionate greetings from groups of auction attendees.

Collector Edward Peterson (“I’m more of an art collector”) came to the auction from Minden, Nevada. He was after a gun, a knife, and a pair of chairs. “The chairs would look great in my front room, and I could tell visitors, ‘Park your a** where Al parked his.’” Peterson was at the auction because he felt a family connection—his mother had married a man “in the business.” He added, “Everyone liked Al—except the FBI.”

Brian Witherell, who grew up working in the family-owned Sacramento auction house, was quoted in the Chronicle story as saying, “I’ve been preparing for this my whole life” and comparing the Capone auction to celebrity auctions involving Babe Ruth and Marilyn Monroe. “This is family archive,” he added, “a time capsule thats been locked up. Nobody knows what his life was like.”

The pre-auction estimate total was $378,400/708,500. As of October 10 the actual sale total was $3,143,759. Eight lots sold below estimate, 18 within estimate, and an astounding 147 above estimate. The average price per lot was $17,964. There were 1202 absentee bidders, 229 live Internet bidders, 12 phone bidders, and 56 floor bidders. Perhaps 100 people attended.

Everyone was waiting for this one: Al Capone’s “favorite” Colt .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, estimated at $100,000/150,000. And no one was disappointed—except for several determined losing bidders. The bidding was fierce and heady, and it finally ended at $860,000 hammer, which translates with buyer’s premium to $1,040,600 and resulted in the third round of applause from the room that evening. The winning bid was placed by bidder #420, a paddle he requested to be custom numbered for him

Everyone was waiting for this one: Al Capone’s “favorite” Colt .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, estimated at $100,000/150,000. And no one was disappointed—except for several determined losing bidders. The bidding was fierce and heady, and it finally ended at $860,000 hammer, which translates with buyer’s premium to $1,040,600 and resulted in the third round of applause from the room that evening. The winning bid was placed by bidder #420, a paddle he requested to be custom numbered for him

Al Capone’s Colt model 1908 hammerless semiautomatic .380-caliber pistol, estimated at $30,000/60,000, sold for $242,000 to a sports celebrity.

Al Capone’s Colt model 1908 hammerless semiautomatic .380-caliber pistol, estimated at $30,000/60,000, sold for $242,000 to a sports celebrity.

The high lot of the sale was Al Capone’s “favorite gun,” a Colt .45-caliber model 1911 semiautomatic pistol that sold for $1,040,600 (with buyer’s premium). Another of Capone’s handguns, a Colt model 1908 hammerless semiautomatic .380-caliber pistol, brought $242,000.

Why the sky-high prices? “I have no idea,” said Witherell. “It caught me off guard. A lot of interest came from the media coverage. We even had interest from foreign countries, but all the buyers were from the U.S. And the greatest geographical concentration of bidders was from Chicago.”

For more information, contact Brian Witherell at (916) 446-6490 or visit the website (www.witherells.com).

A personal letter from Al Capone to his son, Sonny Capone, written from Alcatraz sold for $56,700 (est. $25,000/50,000) to a private collector in Illinois. The underbidder was a historical museum.

A personal letter from Al Capone to his son, Sonny Capone, written from Alcatraz sold for $56,700 (est. $25,000/50,000) to a private collector in Illinois. The underbidder was a historical museum.

The Illinois collector who bought the Alcatraz letter to Sonny bought Al Capone’s 10k gold and diamond tie bar for $22,990 (est. $2500/5000). The tie bar has 21 single-cut diamonds. One diamond is missing.

The Illinois collector who bought the Alcatraz letter to Sonny bought Al Capone’s 10k gold and diamond tie bar for $22,990 (est. $2500/5000). The tie bar has 21 single-cut diamonds. One diamond is missing.

Al and Mae Capone’s 52-piece gold-rimmed crystal stemware set (partially shown), with an estimate of $2500/5000, sold for $27,225 to a Midwest collector who called Capone “a modern day Robin Hood.” When the lot sold, auctioneer Brian Witherell said, “I’m going to get back in the stemware business.”

Al and Mae Capone’s 52-piece gold-rimmed crystal stemware set (partially shown), with an estimate of $2500/5000, sold for $27,225 to a Midwest collector who called Capone “a modern day Robin Hood.” When the lot sold, auctioneer Brian Witherell said, “I’m going to get back in the stemware business.”

An East Coast dealer in historical memorabilia bought Al and Mae Capone’s Hutschenreuther Royal Bavarian china service for 100 (partially shown) for $20,570 (est. $5000/10,000).

An East Coast dealer in historical memorabilia bought Al and Mae Capone’s Hutschenreuther Royal Bavarian china service for 100 (partially shown) for $20,570 (est. $5000/10,000).

Al Capone’s platinum and diamond Patek Philippe pocket watch sold for $229,900 (est. $25,000/50,000) to the bidder with paddle #420.

Al Capone’s platinum and diamond Patek Philippe pocket watch sold for $229,900 (est. $25,000/50,000) to the bidder with paddle #420.

Mae Capone’s platinum Jacoby Swiss wristwatch, with a diamond-filled bezel and 17-jewel movement, sold for $20,570 (est. $1000/2500) to a Tennessee buyer, his only purchase. The watch is inscribed on the back “Sonny / To / Mother / Xmas / 1937.”

Mae Capone’s platinum Jacoby Swiss wristwatch, with a diamond-filled bezel and 17-jewel movement, sold for $20,570 (est. $1000/2500) to a Tennessee buyer, his only purchase. The watch is inscribed on the back “Sonny / To / Mother / Xmas / 1937.”

Al Capone’s 10k white gold, diamond, and ruby money clip, in the shape of a greyhound and a golf club and containing 15 old-European-cut diamonds, sold for $27,225 (est. $1000/2500) to a new Witherell’s client from the South who was a “heavy buyer” in Witherell’s September auction.

Al Capone’s 10k white gold, diamond, and ruby money clip, in the shape of a greyhound and a golf club and containing 15 old-European-cut diamonds, sold for $27,225 (est. $1000/2500) to a new Witherell’s client from the South who was a “heavy buyer” in Witherell’s September auction.

Al Capone’s platinum and diamond initialed Haynes Stellite pocket knife, with four steel blades and with 20 single-cut diamonds spelling “AL,” sold for $78,650 (est. $2500/5000) to an Illinois collector who bought several lots. After the auction the buyer told Witherell, “I got my stuff, and I love it.” He then asked Witherell to ask bidder #420 if he’d sell him the Patek Philippe watch for more than he paid ($229,900). No, he wouldn’t.

Al Capone’s platinum and diamond initialed Haynes Stellite pocket knife, with four steel blades and with 20 single-cut diamonds spelling “AL,” sold for $78,650 (est. $2500/5000) to an Illinois collector who bought several lots. After the auction the buyer told Witherell, “I got my stuff, and I love it.” He then asked Witherell to ask bidder #420 if he’d sell him the Patek Philippe watch for more than he paid ($229,900). No, he wouldn’t.

Al Capone’s 14k yellow gold money clip, engraved “AL,” sold for $54,450 (est. $2500/5000) to a Chicago buyer. It was his only purchase. “Without a doubt,” said Witherell, “the most popular piece in the auction. We had bidders on seven phone lines.”

Al Capone’s 14k yellow gold money clip, engraved “AL,” sold for $54,450 (est. $2500/5000) to a Chicago buyer. It was his only purchase. “Without a doubt,” said Witherell, “the most popular piece in the auction. We had bidders on seven phone lines.”

Al Capone’s 14k white gold and diamond matchbook cover sold for $36,300 (est. $2500/5000) to a private collector from Illinois.

Al Capone’s 14k white gold and diamond matchbook cover sold for $36,300 (est. $2500/5000) to a private collector from Illinois.

Al Capone’s 14k gold monogram pendant with 33 diamonds sold for $82,280 (est. $2500/5000).

Al Capone’s 14k gold monogram pendant with 33 diamonds sold for $82,280 (est. $2500/5000).

Al and Mae Capone’s decorative cigar humidor, 31¼

Al and Mae Capone’s decorative cigar humidor, 31¼" x 19¾" x 13¼", sold for $145,200 (est. $5000/10,000) to Kevin M. Nagle, a minority owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.

A pre-auction photo of (left to right) Barbara (Capone) Prince, Timothy Gordon, who appraised the collection for the family, Diane (Capone) Petit, and auctioneer Brian Witherell.

A pre-auction photo of (left to right) Barbara (Capone) Prince, Timothy Gordon, who appraised the collection for the family, Diane (Capone) Petit, and auctioneer Brian Witherell.

This silver print, said to be the last photograph taken of Al Capone (1899-1947), sold for $19,360 (est. $2500/5000) to a good friend of Witherell’s, a client and a co-appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. In the photo are Mae and Al Capone with their grandchildren.

This silver print, said to be the last photograph taken of Al Capone (1899-1947), sold for $19,360 (est. $2500/5000) to a good friend of Witherell’s, a client and a co-appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. In the photo are Mae and Al Capone with their grandchildren.

Al and Mae Capone’s decorative Louis XVI Revival armchairs sold for $27,225 (est. $2500/5000) to a bidder from a distilling company in Australia.

Al and Mae Capone’s decorative Louis XVI Revival armchairs sold for $27,225 (est. $2500/5000) to a bidder from a distilling company in Australia.

Al and Mae Capone’s decorative desk, 30

Al and Mae Capone’s decorative desk, 30" x 52" x 21", with walnut veneer, sold for $24,200 (est. $2500/5000) to a Bay Area collector.

Al and Mae Capone’s Black Forest carved humidor, 35

Al and Mae Capone’s Black Forest carved humidor, 35" x 17" x 17", and side chairs sold for $21,780 (est. $10,000/15,000) to Kevin M. Nagle, who also bought another cigar humidor for $145,200.


Originally published in the December 2021 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2021 Maine Antique Digest

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